UUA president urges UUs not to boycott Phoenix GA

UUA president urges UUs not to boycott Phoenix GA

UUs conflicted over boycott of Phoenix as General Assembly site in 2012.

Jane Greer


UUA President Peter Morales is asking Unitarian Universalists not to boycott General Assembly in Phoenix in 2012. In a statement issued June 10, he wrote, “I believe we are called to go to Phoenix and create a GA like no previous GA.”

The UUA board issued a statement five weeks earlier on May 10, asking delegates to the 2010 General Assembly to approve moving the 2012 GA out of Arizona as part of a larger boycott of the state.

At issue is the passage of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which expands the power of local Arizona police to check the immigration status of anyone when “reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.” The law also empowers citizens to file lawsuits if they believe that an official or agency is not enforcing the law to its fullest extent. Many fear that the law will lead to increased racial profiling and deportations.

While most UUs oppose the law, which is scheduled to go into effect July 28, they differ in their responses. Some advocate boycotting Phoenix as the site of the 2012 General Assembly and others believe that the best approach is to go to Phoenix to stand in solidarity with those oppressed by this law. “The real question before us . . . is not a difference about the goal we seek,” Morales wrote in his letter, “but rather a tactical question about how we can make the greatest difference.”

According to Morales’s letter, UUs would be invited to come to the Phoenix GA in 2012 in order to learn more about immigrant justice and to stand in solidarity with two Latino advocacy groups: Puente and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. Morales included an invitation from the two groups in his letter: “We ask that your 2012 General Assembly here in Phoenix be a convergence in cooperation with us and that together we design the best ways that UUs can witness, learn from, take action, and serve the movement here.”

“I want us to experience the reality of life for immigrants,” Morales wrote. “I want us to learn and to bear witness. I dream of a GA where we reflect theologically upon what it means to be a faith that can cross the borders of race, class, and culture.”

The board decided at a telephone conference held May 6 that the best response to SB 1070 was to ask GA delegates to authorize a boycott of the 2012 General Assembly scheduled for Phoenix. According to the board’s resolution, the General Assembly Planning Committee would be asked to select alternative sites for the 2012 GA. The National Council of La Raza, the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, has called for a boycott of the state of Arizona.

One of the biggest points of contention over a boycott is the potential loss of money. If the UUA decides to boycott Phoenix, it will lose $615,000 in hotel cancellation fees with the Hyatt and Wyndam hotels after June 15. Before June 15, the cancellation fees would have been $563,000.

According to UUA Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Tim Brennan, there is no chance that some of these fees could be applied to hotels in the same chain in another city. “Hotels are typically not owned by the ‘brand,’” he wrote in an email. “The Phoenix Hyatt is owned by a local consortium and the Wyndam is owned by an individual. In neither case could we fulfill our room obligation by going to another hotel operating under the same brand.”

Gini Courter, UUA moderator, told UU World that the board expected there would be much debate about the boycott. As moderator, Courter presides over General Assembly and the board and is the UUA’s chief governance officer.

“My hope is that delegates will not come to GA with their minds made up about this,” Courter said. “It’s been my hope all along that they’ll learn about it, talk with folks in the congregations about it, and that they’ll start to form opinions about the kinds of questions that they feel need to be answered so we can discern what to do.”

She added that she felt a special commitment to UUs of color, especially those whom SB 1070 affects most directly. “We have an important commitment to be attentive to the Unitarian Universalists within our faith at whom this law is directed,” she said. “We need to be attentive to the communities of color in this conversation; we need to be attentive to other people who have been systematically oppressed by law. . . . It would be very easy for many UUs to disregard the best thinking of the Unitarian Universalists who are from historically marginalized groups.”

Courter strongly urged delegates to attend the mini-assembly on the boycott resolution at GA. The mini-assembly will allow participants the opportunity to make amendments to the resolution before it is brought to the Assembly floor.

Although Courter and Morales are on record disagreeing about the means of addressing the issue of SB 1070, they are united in their belief in the law’s potential harm. “This is legislation that is racist,” Courter said. “It’s dressed up in the name of immigration. What’s happening in Arizona is just the beginning. This is a national issue.”

“Phoenix isn’t about Phoenix,” Morales wrote in his letter. “In fact, the entire issue of immigration is not ultimately about immigration. We are in a struggle for the future direction of American society. How we treat immigrants, especially those from Mexico and Central America, is today’s equivalent of the Civil Rights Movement.”

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Correction 6.15.10: As originally published, this paragraph stated that the board recommended a boycott of the 2012 General Assembly. The board recommended, however, that the General Assembly boycott the state of Arizona.